Richards says Planned Parenthood is ready to spar with Trump
by Sari Staver
The incoming Congress' anticipated attempts to restrict abortions and defund health care services for women will be met "with an uprising like they've never seen before," said Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards.
Speaking to a sold-out audience at a Commonwealth Club forum in San Francisco Monday, December 5, Richards said that while politicians are giving lip service to the issue of infrastructure and jobs, their "number one targets" are women and Planned Parenthood.
"We're ready for them," said Richards. "We've spent 100 years" getting ready for this fight.
In conversation with gay ex-NFL player Wade Davis, Richards said that Planned Parenthood's strategy involves cooperation with other organizations, including those supporting LGBT rights.
Planned Parenthood, which provides health care services, education, and information, has faced major opposition in this election year, with many politicians calling for the elimination of the organization's state and federal funding and closure of its clinics, said Richards. Over 2.5 million men and women visit Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers in the U.S. annually, she said.
Many Republican lawmakers have argued that the government should not support Planned Parenthood initiatives, while the organization's 9 million supporters argue that without their services, public health and safety are endangered, Richards said.
Explaining the organization's history, Richards said that when founder Margaret Sanger began the organization in New York City 100 years ago, undercover cops took her to jail for distributing information on birth control. Once incarcerated, Sanger continued her quest by educating inmates on the topic.
"We're going to need that kind of resilience" to deal with the incoming administration, said Richards, citing evidence of the anticipated struggle to come.
"We face tough times" because of the attitudes about women expressed by members of the new administration, she said. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, for example, has been trying to defund Planned Parenthood for several years. Since the election, Richards noted that over 70,000 individuals have made contributions to the organization in Pence's name as part of an independent grassroots campaign.
Additionally, said Richards, since November 8 hundreds of thousands of people have joined Planned Parenthood, which is now one and a half times larger than the National Rifle Association.
"Not that it's a competition," she added.
Asked how Planned Parenthood is using technology, Richards said over 6 million people visit the organization's website monthly. A relatively new program enables people around the world to get birth control information on their mobile phones.
Recently, a Planned Parenthood clinician in Seattle was able to arrange a video conference with a woman living in the Arctic Circle. Five days later, the woman received her birth control prescription, dropped by a plane.
New technology also enables people to use a text chat program to receive information from Planned Parenthood, Richards said.
"Sometimes young people with a problem feel more comfortable texting than talking," she explained. "Planned Parenthood technology and the web are a match made in heaven."
Richards urged parents to start conversations with their kids about sex, "not just the transaction" but also about intimacy and relationships.
Davis, who came out after retiring from the NFL in 2012, noted that he learned about sex online.
"Probably the worst way," he said.
"As a male, I wish I had known about Planned Parenthood," said Davis, who is executive director of the You Can Play Project, an advocacy organization working to eradicate homophobia in professional sports.
Richards emphasized that men can also come to Planned Parenthood for health care. According to the organization's website, men's health care services include checkups for reproductive or sexual health problems; colon, prostate, and testicular cancer screenings; condoms and vasectomy; and erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation services.
With more than 2.5 million people now using Planned Parenthood for health care, Richards said the organization is expanding its services for transgender people across the country.
"People should be able to get health care services without shame or stigma," she said.
Richards said she recently learned that a gay male friend of hers, now a successful New York businessman, had been a peer educator for Planned Parenthood in Plano, Texas where he grew up.
Planned Parenthood, Richards said, "is a place to be loud and proud."
A number of questions submitted by audience members involved the anticipated problems stemming from President-elect Donald Trump's administration.
One asked whether Richards was worried about the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade (the 1973 decision upholding a woman's decision to have an abortion under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment) and about anticipated congressional efforts to restrict abortions.
"Yes and yes," she responded.
Richards reminded the audience of a fight Planned Parenthood won several years ago, after former Texas Governor Rick Perry led the drive to defund women's health care in the state, shuttering 80 health centers. Three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Texas laws were unconstitutional.
"People never gave up," she said. "We must remember that now."
"We won't have the votes [in Congress] over the coming months," she conceded. "But in the long run, we'll win.
"I think I will live to see the day" when safe and legal abortions and birth control are free for everyone in this country, she added.